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Opinion

Imagine if Newcastle lined up against Tottenham with a team looking something like this…

3 years ago
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Since Newcastle United claimed the Championship title at St James Park against Barnsley over a month ago, a lot has been written and spoken about who the club should sign and who the club should let go/sell to give us a fighting chance of attacking the Premier League, to ensure that we are not simply there next season to survive and nothing more.

The biggest piece of business thus far was the retention of Rafa Benitez. Put simply, the whole tone of the summer would have been completely different if that meeting last month between Rafa and Mike Ashley had gone the other way and the Spaniard slinked off down Barrack Road and the shift in attitude and transfer policy under Rafa Benitez had been altered back to where it was pre-March 2016.

On the negative side of things for a moment, the doom and gloom amongst a small minority of fans has been quite frankly staggering.

Everything has been going swimmingly for such a long time at Newcastle United and yet still some revert to childish name calling of the owner, something of which needs to be put to bed at least for now. There has been a lot of things Mike Ashley has got wrong, deliberately and accidentally, some of which can be put down to simple naivety in running a football club.  A lot has been said and done that can’t and won’t be forgiven and quite rightly so, but for now, as long as Rafa stays and Rafa is happy that will do me.

Another negative is some fans expectations. We simply can’t just go into the Premier League next season with aspirations of smashing down the top six like it’s 1993 all over again- a little bit of realism from all parties is required.

A lot of things have changed since Kevin Keegan brought us back to the top flight all those years ago. One thing is for sure, the money in football continues to go through the roof. The days of breaking transfer records for the best striker in the world in Alan Shearer at £15m are a lifetime away, with the equivalent now being something along the lines of buying Harry Kane from Tottenham and if he were available, what would he cost in this day and age? Probably best starting the bidding at £80m and offer £200k a week.

This summer we need to do what is needed to walk before we can run in the top flight. Forget going out and buying five players at £40m+ each, that’s Manchester United territory and not feasible for Newcastle United. We also have to add in a dose of realism about who we can and can’t attract, Rafa Benitez holds a lot of clout with regards to which names will come to St James’, but these players will either want top dollar for doing so, or they will demand a certain level of security if we were to go down next season, like it or not, that’s where we are.

I do believe we can build a quite competitive side next season, without having to spend a 2017 transfer market type fortune. So the following is my relatively realistic strategy for next season based on rumours and a little bit of personal opinion.

I hear some fans turning their noses up at the players released from Manchester City this summer and I do wonder quite who they actually want to sign for us. Simple question, if we were to go after two of the players they have released in Gael Clichy and Jesus Navas and got them, would they not instantly lift the quality of the side in their respective positions? And for free.

Similarly, despite his stock being considered to be lower than it was a couple of years ago, would former Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart not enhance the quality between the posts, especially with big question marks hanging over the futures of Tim Krul, Rob Elliot and Matt Sels? Imagine what having a Premier League title winner in goal could do for the team and for the stature of the club as a whole.

Recent days have had us linked with Manchester United’s Chris Smalling. Every man and his dog has been crying out for the club to sign a no-nonsense, tough tackling centre back and wouldn’t he fit the bill and would also be a huge coup. My own personal preference has always been Ryan Shawcross from Stoke, two players of the same mould who could also bring Jamaal Lascelles on leaps and bounds.

Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs is another alleged target to improve an area fans have shown a concern for in recent seasons. A Rafa Benitez signing from years gone by for Liverpool in Lucas has also been mooted, as has Tom Cairney from Fulham and Jota from Brentford. The Cairney deal has been on the table for a while and I can’t see the lad wanting to stick it out in the Championship if any deal from the Premier League was forthcoming. That one might have legs.

Now just suppose that a summer transfer window along the lines of this pans out. It’s not being too ambitious, not pie in the sky and wouldn’t break the bank, certainly not with the silly amounts of money being mentioned for players in the current climate. Imagine if Newcastle United lined up against Tottenham Hotspur on August 12th looking something like this:

In a 4-2-3-1 –

Hart

Gibbs

Shawcross

Lascelles

Clichy

Lucas

Shelvey

Navas

Cairney

Ritchie

Gayle

That would leave also leave us with a squad of Darlow, Elliot, Dummett, Yedlin, Mbemba, Clark, Hanley, Hayden, Atsu, Perez, Armstrong and potentially Gouffran. Plus I’d like to see another striker to choose from and/or partner Dwight Gayle at times, but either way, that side somewhere along those lines won’t look bad at all and like I’ve said, isn’t out of the realms of possibility.

The casualties of a summer cull for me (rightly or wrongly) would be Krul, Sels, Colback, Anita, Lazaar, Diame, Gamez, Mitrovic, De Jong, Saivet and Riviere, players who either haven’t don’t it in the Premier League, Championship, or in some cases even both. These are players I also don’t think Rafa rates highly either and if moved on successfully, would bring the wage bill down somewhat.

Crucially (so far) Rafa Benitez has been given authority to manage his way and it shouldn’t be any different. He will know where to strengthen and what type of player and character is required to play at St James Park.

With regards to the Premier League, on the positive side of things, if you take the top 7 out of last season, 12 points separated Southampton in 8th and relegated Hull in 18th. Watford survived winning only 11 games, yet losing 20. There’s an awful lot of poor sides in the division and if we get a bit of quality on board, it shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate through most of them.

NB: While writing, news/speculation broke about the Chinese investors rumoured to be interested in buying the club outright or having a stake in the club. Whilst I’d be up for Mike Ashley selling the club, I’m also wary of any overseas interest in the club and in particular eyes can be cast to the dreadful running of Blackburn Rovers and Cardiff,  so it could be very much the case of ‘better the devil you know’.

Also, I don’t think these rumours will have an effect on transfer outlay as the club will be a far more attractive proposition to any suitor if the team is performing well in the Premier League. Things have been going awfully well of late but we are all aware that a spanner in the works, or a crisis, isn’t too far around the corner at Newcastle. Let’s hope the owner lets Rafa Benitez get on with his job.

(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])

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